In the KMSKA, the Royal Museum of Fine Arts in Antwerp, we can marvel at an incredible collection representing seven centuries worth of art from Flemish to world-famous masters.
In order to become the renowned institution of European excellence it is today, the museum was closed for 11 years for its renovation as well as extension, which restored the building entirely to its original state and added 40% extra exhibition space.
Meyvaert played a vital role in this profound and lengthy refurbishment of the museum, taking care of the full fit out of all exhibition areas.
Our expertise was sought to provide 33 permanent and 11 temporary galleries with showcases, furniture, lighting, AV equipment, object mounting, graphics and brass wayfinding, which would all contribute to the splendid metamorphosis of the KMSKA.
We collaborated very efficiently with the museum when this fascinating operation raised some challenges along the way. From the moment we started working on the project, the museum had already been closed for over 9 years and was now counting down to the opening date, so the planning was of the utmost importance.
Moreover, since we were confronted by the pandemic (early 2021) and the material scarcity (2021-2022), a certain amount of flexibility was expected from Meyvaert. Thanks to a proactive approach to the supply of scarce materials (bronze, brass), the basic materials were sourced at an early stage to avoid any surprises in our planning.
A third challenge for our schedule was the installation phase coinciding with numerous other activities in the building and its surroundings, such as the art transfer from external storage to the museum, the relandscaping of the garden, the renewal of the offices and the organisation of several events for publicity and funding.
Not only could we depend on a smooth collaboration with the museum team, we could also count on our strong network of reliable suppliers & partners, with whom we have surrounded ourselves over the past years. These experts help us to efficiently provide solutions to complex problems and high demands. We collaborated with different subcontractors for AV, furniture and gallery lighting.
Meyvaert’s crucial role was to coordinate all subcontractors and see to it that all parties operated in a good synergy. To illustrate: a very close collaboration between multiple parties was required to accomplish the seamless integration of all multimedia and hardware in the set pieces and furniture (with flexible mounting/demounting, easy access for maintenance), but also for object installation in the corresponding showcases and the appropriate alignment of the external lighting.
Another example of a joint effort is the design of the altar pedestals (ca. WxH 5 x 3 m weighing 300 kg). Due to the size and weight of the altar pieces, we needed clear instructions from the art handlers, the conservation team and restauration team to securely install the artworks while taking into account the architects’ distinct design intent.
In short, a good and efficient cooperation of all these crucial teams and especially at the right time was essential to meet the high standards set by a top institution as the KMSKA.
The design intent, as introduced by the architects and scenographers, is characterised by a cohesive materialisation in which all elements, from the recurrent patterns in the furniture to the finishing of the wood, steel, bronze and brass detailing, generate a perfect balance thoughout the galleries.Manifold special materials and finishes were used to facilitate the architects’ harmonious scenography. One of our many efforts was to custom design all label holders for the artworks and the wayfinding throughout the museum.
Both are produced in brass, but each with their own unique manufacturing challenges and approach. On the one hand, the wayfinding is cut out of messing panels (with a thickness of up to 10 mm). The label holders, on the other hand, are folded with a special V-cut technique developped to obtain sharp edges. Other holders, in turn, are made of brass profiles that have to be uniquely welded.
Aside from messing, we also got to work with bronze. The kick plinths, on which the wooden plinths rest, were made by sand casting solid bronze profiles, which are then patinated and welded by hand. In addition to the above, all metal parts of the showcases have the same bronze oxidised green finish to flawlessly match the bronze kick plinths. By applying multiple sample rounds and facilitating a close collaboration between the client, architects and involved suppliers, we managed to fully commit to the architects’ aspiration for aesthetic unity and overall artistic identity of the museum.
An extensive project like this demands a scrutinous analysis of a multitude of factors, including the walls and floors of the galleries. Meticulous calculations were made to integrate our showcases into their environment in the most secure and efficient way possible.
Different approaches were required for mounting on the walls in both the new and old parts of the museum building. The plaster walls in the new galleries weren’t structurally sound enough to support the showcases.
Our 3D modelling program, which allows for realistic weight & strength calculations and representations, combined with the expertise and experience of our design team at Meyvaert, ensured that these specific concerns were addressed early in the design process. Thanks to our proactive approach, there was enough time and flexibility to explore various options and discuss them with the museum team and the architects.
The famous large and heavy Rubens paintings (ca. WxH 5 x 7 m weighing 600 kg) were a different and challenging story, since they were positioned on thick brick walls, of which the density was weakened by old ventilation shafts. Therefore our mount maker, in collaboration with the restauration team, examined the frames to determine the viable supporting areas of the painting. A study was carried out to calculate how deep the anchoring in the rear wall needed to be in order to bridge the cavity of the shaft, whilst taking into account the weight of the paintings.
Not only the walls, but also the floors were in need of testing and calculating. We persistently considered the maximum allowed floor load per m² when moving equipment over the floor during installation. Hence for every element we considered the maximum point load and recommended floor protection. More specifically, regarding the fragile high glossy PU floors we concluded, after testing several leveling feet, that metal spreader plates were needed to avoid permanent imprints on the floor.
Last but not least, sustainability was of great importance both to us and the KMSKA. The museum asked us to adjust the design of the minimalistic screen holders. When the screen isn’t available in the future, another screen can be mounted without any necessity to design and produce an entirely new holder.
Additionally, all bronze was for the most part won from old recycled wiring and electronics.
The result of the lengthy renovation and intense collaboration is a museum showing off a high level of expertise in both technical and aesthetic finishes, from the ultra-fine brass label holders, the subtle and elegant glass joints in black silicone of the showcases to the omnipresent and distinctive bronze-oxidised green colour.
The elegant and remarkable design aspects transcend across the old and new halls, engaging in a dialogue with each other, thereby radiating a unified artistic harmony that encompasses the diversity of seven centuries of art throughout the entire building.
© Karin Borghouts & David Ponnet
The Royal Museum of Fine Arts Antwerp (KMSKA)
61 conservation grade extra white anti-reflective display cases, 65 plinths, AV equipment, 40 benches, 55 chairs & 43 stools, 34 tables, 16 closets/freestanding walls, 900 spots & external light fixtures, 700 graphic labels, 708 graphic holders, 2600 brass wayfinding pieces, object mounting, carpets & curtains
MATERIALS & FINISHES: bronze cast plinths + matching bronze coating on steel & aluminium elements
© Karin Borghouts & David Ponnet